Timely advice, but will it be useful?
Thanks to my friend Muir Boda, I came across an interesting snippet on the Maryland Libertarians’ Facebook page:
Fellow Freedom Fighters,
The same is almost always true for Libertarian candidates for Senate, Congress, Governor, State Representative…any candidate that threatens the two party statist oligarchy gets ignored.
Today, we begin a new program to systematically break into the media, and make sure that America starts to get complete, honest, and accurate reporting. If you are interested in getting involved in online journalism, please contact Shane Wittig at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/shane.wittig.
Shane currently writes articles for the examiner.com, where he can provide accurate and unbiased political coverage. He can help you learn more about the process of writing for sites like examiner.com, which are becoming increasingly important in today’s media. Even if you write just one accurate article a week, you can help advance the joint causes of liberty and honesty.
Of course, having written for the Examiner website on two different occasions, I have some familiarity with them. My experience with them has been mixed at best, although perhaps my aims were a little bit different than those sought by the national Libertarian Party (the original source of this information.) While Examiners don’t make a whole lot of money from having the space there (I think my best month was around $40 and the payout formula has gotten worse since) they do have some readership. Unfortunately that readership tends to cluster in the lifestyle and celebrity portions of the Examiner site. Politics tends to be one of the many redheaded stepchildren in the Examiner‘s overall scheme. (If my memory serves – and it generally does – Muir Boda is the Maryland Libertarian Examiner, so he also should know.)
But any exposure is good exposure, which leads to the second part of my criticism. Truly this goes for anyone who wants to write commentary.
Almost anyone can write a blog post, but not everyone can write newsworthy articles or insightful opinion pieces. It’s somewhat of an acquired skill, although having a little natural talent at selecting just the right word to convey a thought doesn’t hurt. But in order to write one good, accurate article a week from an amateur’s perspective, the subject is probably not going to be something that’s up-to-the-minute news. What this market needs, then, is news brought from a different perspective, a fresh angle none of the others think of.
Let’s look at the Libertarians’ complaint: their candidates don’t get enough ink. We on the conservative side can relate to that, although in our case we get barrels of ink – it’s just that the media coverage shown to us tends to attempt to portray our side in the worst light possible. For example, the coverage of the “fiscal cliff” seemed to focus most on whether the Republican House would choose to continue tax cuts for the wealthy, not that the whole prospect could have been avoided had the Democratic-controlled Senate either a) passed a budget, which it has not for the last three years and counting, or b) taken up the House-passed plan sooner than a few days before the self-imposed D-day. (It was passed by the House several months ago.) Yet that word didn’t get out because the majority of people in this nation receive their news from mainstream media outlets (if they listen to them at all) and don’t do their homework.
Perhaps the secret isn’t just being featured on websites like the Examiner one, but using other avenues to announce to the people there is an alternative viewpoint. Examiners have the option to trumpet their work on Facebook and Twitter, which is good but not enough. As for me, I’ve done Facebook for quite awhile but I was slow to catch on to the marketing potential of Twitter, and am trying to catch up. (I can be followed there: @ttownjotes.)
Still, in many cases you’ll be preaching to the choir. The key with any writing is not just being a reporter or a commentator, but doing so in an interesting fashion which makes people want to read it and achieves the perception of a coherent and sound argument. In most cases misspelled words, poor sentence structure, and obtuse phrasing do as much to destroy an argument as misstating the facts will. This is why I almost obsessively proofread, even after I hit “publish.” In my case, WordPress does a nice job of pointing out my misspelled words but if it’s a misplaced word spelled correctly (like “truck” for “trunk”) the spell checker lets it slide. Sadly, I see this on many mainstream websites, let alone venues where untrained amateur cub reporters roam – Examiner is but one example.
I don’t say this to try to embarrass anyone who’s considering this business or to state that I’m the be-all and end-all of journalism. I know I have a steep learning curve in a lot of areas and I’ve been doing this as a hobby-turned-avocation for the last seven-plus years. If I’d started as a high-school graduate and received a degree in journalism as a substitute for the first four years I did this I’d probably be at the level where maybe I was trusted to write the obituaries at a medium-market paper by now. Yet in my situation I write this (apparently) well-regarded website. It took a lot of practice to get where I am, over 3,300 posts, perhaps a couple million words, and countless lessons which I continue to learn about marketing my work later.
So, my Libertarian friends and any other pro-liberty advocates who may happen across this post, don’t expect to be the second coming of John Stossel overnight. It will take a lot – and I mean a LOT – of writing to gain the credibility necessary to become a trusted pro-liberty voice. If you’re willing to work at it, though, why not give it a crack?
Besides, as poorly-run as the public school system is, the old-line journalists who knew how to write well aren’t being replaced on the liberal side. Here’s the opportunity to begin seizing the narrative.